An old schoolyard counting rhyme muses that seven ate nine. But in the case of the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Touring, it ate up the range gap of the old CX-7 until CX-8 arrived.
Mazda buyers have in the past two years had a choice of CX-5 five-seat medium SUV that stretches 4.55 metres long, or this CX-9 seven-seat large SUV that spans a huge 5.1m long. Now the all-new CX-8 seven-seat mid-large SUV slides in between, although Mazda hasn’t left this older and bigger unit feeling outdated or outgunned.
In fact, Japanese engineers have tinkered with the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) properties of this CX-9 for this year, while the product planning department has added more standard equipment to this middle-tier Touring model grade.
Time, then, to revisit this seven-seater and see if the lightly updated CX-9 remains a worthy large SUV pick.
Prices have increased across the board for the 2018 model year (MY18) CX-9, from $42,490 to $43,890 plus on-road costs in the case of the front-wheel drive (FWD) Sport, and from $46,490 to $47,890 (plus orc) with optional all-wheel drive (AWD).
The hike owes mainly to the addition of a digital radio and electric-fold door mirrors across the range, as well as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that now detects pedestrians and works from zero to 80km/h – up from a 30km/h maximum before.
Step to the Touring FWD, which moves from $48,890 to $50,290 (plus orc), or this Touring AWD that flips from $52,890 to $54,290 (plus orc), and more goodies arrive.
For the $6400 over the Sport, it adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen (up from 7.0in), automatic on/off headlights and wipers, LED foglights, twin-rear USB ports, plus leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated front seats. Its own new MY18 additions include keyless auto-entry and driver’s tilt adjustment. As discovered in the next section, though, there are some omissions that require a buyer to spend more.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.0/5
For its $55K ask, there is no doubt the CX-9 offers plenty of metal for the money, plus several seats and space.
However, it’s up to the CX-9 GT, which moves from $57,390 to $58,790 (plus orc) in FWD guise, and $61,390 to $61,790 (plus orc) in AWD specification, to score stuff that might be expected as standard here – such as a digital speedometer (via its head-up display), front parking sensors and an electric tailgate.
Even then, only the flagship CX-9 Azami gets adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and active lane keep assistance that are all now standard on an entry-level $32,490 (plus orc) Mazda6 Sport sedan. And the MY18 price? It has moved from $59,390 to $60,790 (FWD – plus orc) or $63,390 to $64,790 (AWD – plus orc).
Nowadays, then, this $54,290 (plus orc) Touring AWD is solid but not superb value. For example, Kia’s only slightly smaller Sorento SLi AWD scores a more frugal diesel engine, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assistance, electric tailgate and 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio (versus six speakers here), all for $50,490 (plus orc).
Beyond elements of price and equipment, however, the remaining package largely continues to impress. There’s soft-touch plastics everywhere in the CX-9, and they are complemented by plush leather, tactile knurled-silver controls and superb finish.
Together it all combines for a more than merely semi-premium feel up front, certainly much more so than Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger price- and size-rivals. Where the Touring falls behind the latter is in terms of storage, with only an average-sized glovebox and centre console storage bin, plus a single console tray offered.
Mazda’s MZD-Connect touchscreen is brilliant, though, and it will soon be updated with AppleCarPlay/Android Auto connectivity to match the otherwise excellent integrated satellite navigation. Wireless smartphone charging would be a nice upgrade, too, but the quartet of USB ports is inspired.
In fact, middle-row passengers will enjoy more than just those ports in the fold-down centre armrest, but also their own climate zone and air vents. Legroom is cavernous, even when the sliding bench is moved forwards to afford third-row riders room.
Those sixth and seventh passengers will likewise enjoy ample legroom, although headroom is unexpectedly crimped. And beyond the average storage, another disappointment is the lack of third-row air vents that are standard in Kluger, Pathfinder, and even Sorento.
In the case of the latter, especially, it really is best measure up your family because the Kia only gives away millimetres in space to this CX-9 inside, despite being shorter on the outside – 4.8m-long versus almost 5.1m here.
The 275mm difference has to go somewhere, though, and in this case it’s in the boot. With all seven seats in use, the Mazda’s 230-litre boot soundly eclipses the Kia’s 142L and is broadly competitive with similarly gargantuan Toyota and Nissan rivals. Fold the third-row down and a huge 810L is there for the taking. Or, rather, packing…
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
We know what you’re thinking: why spend $4000 more on this Touring AWD over the otherwise identically equipped Touring FWD? Well, the answer should be simple even if light off-roading isn’t on the cards.
With a combination of humble 18-inch Yokohama Geolandar tyres, punchy 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine, and a short first gear inside the six-speed automatic gearbox, choosing AWD should mean off-the-line grip every time.
Except here it doesn’t. With 420Nm of torque delivered at just 2000rpm, there’s plenty there to trouble only front tyres, and Mazda’s active- AWD system doesn’t immediately send enough to the rear tyres off the line. It causes a chirp off the line in the dry, or a flash of the electronic stability control (ESC) light in the wet. That said, the AWD does help deliver superb handling – but more on that later.
Along with 170kW of power at 5000rpm, this petrol engine is at least superbly refined yet raunchy, and it mates superbly to a near-flawless auto with the best intuition in the business. Mazda has worked to reduce road noise, too, and together the result is whisper-quiet progress that will embarrass any diesel competitor – including premium European models recently tested, such as the Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4.
To be fair it is a case of grasping a bouquet but then taking your brickbat down to the local service station. The Touring will run on 91RON regular unleaded, and its combined-cycle fuel consumption claim of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres is commendable and rather diesel-efficient. But around town we saw 12-14L/100km.
Ultimately, for a big SUV, diesel remains best from an efficiency perspective, but Mazda doesn’t offer one in this model. For an oiler, see the smaller CX-8…
Otherwise the steering is crisp and friction-free, and although the suspension is perhaps not as plush as ideal, the firm ride quality does improve notably with occupants on board.
The CX-9 can’t quite hide its sheer size and kerb weight (1911kg) when being driven through country bends, but this MY18 update does add G-Vectoring Control (GVC) that has filtered through to other Mazdas; basically it lightly brakes certain wheels when cornering in order to calmly massage the vehicle into the surface more evenly.
This is among the most neutral-handling SUVs on the market, complete with an AWD system that does help a driver pick up the throttle out of bends earlier than the alternative FWD model, and superb ESC. While a Sorento SLi may be more nimble, this Touring AWD still offers a great blend of driver enjoyment and refinement.
SAFETY | RATING: 5.0/5
5 Stars – this model scored 35.87 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors with rear-view camera and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, sub-80km/h front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) including pedestrian detection and reversing-AEB.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Annual or 10,000km servicing intervals with a capped-price cost of $332/$375/$332/$375/$332 for each check-up over the first five years or 50,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Sorento SLi is all about superb value for money, a long warranty, diesel efficiency, and sparkling road manners that extend to high levels of active safety equipment. In these ways the CX-9 can’t quite compete, though it is roomier overall.
A space advantage is true for the Pathfinder and Kluger, too, but these contenders are otherwise well off the pace for cabin comfort, quality and on-road effortlessness and enjoyment. Consider the Mazda over the Nissan and Toyota with confidence.
Kia Sorento SLi diesel AWD Nissan Pathfinder ST-L AWD Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5
Large families will largely love the CX-9 Touring, it’s as simple as that. For $55K before on-road costs, some more niceties such as an electric tailgate would be ideal, while adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance should be musts these days.
Some more storage space and third-row air vents might also go on a to-do list for Mazda engineers, while diesel engine availability could well help with economy.
Otherwise, though, in every other way this middle-tier Touring is an incredibly polished effort, with engine performance, automatic smarts, sweet steering, controlled yet comfortable suspension and enjoyable handling all worthy of note.
All of which means a buyer can go big with confidence at a Mazda dealership and purchase a CX-9. Yet also just remember that there’s another smaller, cheaper, better equipped and more efficient seven-seat SUV arriving at dealers now as well…
- Interested in buying Mazda CX-9? Visit our Mazda CX-9 showroom for more information.